Creating the ‘The Prelude’

Music: Michael J Smith (op. 98-102) Text: William Wordsworth

An oratorio in five parts:

As preparation for setting to music ‘The Prelude’ and other texts by William Wordsworth*, Michael Smith spent 2 years reading the poetry onto audio tape – well over 6000 lines of blank verse! He then selected certain texts, copied them out and placed each text in a plain brown envelope. Initially these envelopes were pinned to the rafters in the room at Spaarnewoude Straat 41 (Haarlem - Netherlands) where he began the composition.

He worked methodically through the envelopes, taking down each one as he began the setting of that particular text.  The work is set for choir and two principal soloists, William Wordsworth (tenor) and Dorothy Wordsworth (soprano). A few numbers are set for the character of Coleridge (bass). The boy William is sung by a boy/girl soprano at the beginning and the end. There are also a few places for a children’s choir.Blear Rigg


It took 10 years (beginning in 1996) to complete the work in a form accompanied by 2 pianos , and a further four years to set the first third of the work (‘The Poet’) for full symphony orchestra. Throughout most of this time, the composer was also working as a professional viola player in the Noord Hollands Orkest.  By the time he ceased working on 'The Prelude', Michael had retired (although he still played in various amateur orchestras) and was living in  's'Hertogenbosch (Brabant - Netherlands).

Sadly, Michael Smith did not live to complete an orchestral setting of ‘Tyrants’ and ‘The Prophet’, although he did select certain numbers from these last parts for performance at Ryton, Gateshead, in 2009, setting the accompaniment for chamber orchestra.

If performed from end to end, the work would last over 10 hours – clearly an impractical proposition! There are five distinct parts, however, with suggested intervals within these parts. There are also several pieces which are set as Symphonic Sketches. Moreover, the composer was happy for much shorter concert selections to be made to suit the mood and inclination of the performers (as at Ryton in 2009).

The composer’s family would be happy to hear from anyone who would be interested in recreating an orchestral setting of any of the last two parts from the piano setting.

A free pdf download of an extract from the first number ( ‘Dear Native Regions’) is available by clicking here. Permission to download the whole work in PDF can be sought from the family. Please contact us here.

* The other poems used are (links to external sites):

Intimations of Immortality Composed in Anticipation of Leaving School
Lines Written in Very Early Youth The Battle of Waterloo: 1816
Written in London: September 1802 October 1803
Resolution & Independence: 1802 Malham Cove 1818
Independence and Liberty: 1811 Liberty and Order 1: 1831
Liberty and Order 2: 1837 On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic
Ode: January 18th 1816